Last but not least: What to do with your turkey leftovers

Assuming that you are reading this piece because you did not, as food blogger Joanne Cronin of drily counsels, buy the correct size turkey for the number of people eating, have a round of sandwiches before bed and be done with it, or do as Aoife Ryan @babaduck71 suggests and give your mother-in-law a large parcel to take home with her after the meal – what on earth are you going to do with what’s left of the bird?

Well, you could always have another sandwich. It seems that many people look forward to them more than they do to Christmas dinner.

Estate agent Ben Thompson remembers his mother buying the biggest turkey possible for their small family of four and that they would eat turkey sandwiches – white bread, lots of butter and lashings of salt – until the tree came down. (To me, this smacks of a clever ploy on the part of Mrs Thompson to avoid cooking for the 12 days of Christmas.)

My personal preference is to wedge the meat between two slices of buttered toast (Sceal Bakery’s super-seeded, with which I prudently stocked my freezer some weeks back *smugface*), and to cram in as much bread sauce and stuffing – but no cranberry sauce, thanks all the same – as possible before retreating to a quiet spot with my book. (Women on Food, an anthology compiled by Charlotte Druckman, seeing as you’re asking, and I’m not sure that it’s doing anything for my digestion as it’s stirring up an amount of rage.)

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Others prefer their sangers on batch or sliced white pan. Restaurateur Andy Noonan has his with Gubbeen cheese and Ballymaloe relish, while Sean Drugan of The Vintage Kitchen makes his in the George Foreman with tortilla, caramelised red onion, vintage cheddar and sauerkraut. Other versions include a slice fried in butter and topped with a fried egg, accompanied by a can of real Coke, claimed to be ‘the best hangover cure ever’ (trademark pending).

But when the lure of the sandwich has passed, and there’s still a significant quantity of bird eyeing you from under the tinfoil shroud, what are you going to do with it?

Working in reverse order, the carcass is going to produce a genuinely delicious stock – it’s the daddy, says TV chef Gary O’Hanlon – that will form the basis for a great soup in the days to come. Gaz Smith of Michael’s and Little Mike’s agrees.

“In my opinion,” he says, “turkey makes a far superior stock to any other fowl. So you could make a chowder-type soup/stew with the leftovers popped in for the final seconds only. Turkey doesn’t lend itself to reheating.”

Strip all the meat from the bones, break down the carcass with your hands and pop it into the largest pot that you have with a couple of onions, carrots, sticks of celery and a few peppercorns. Bring to a gentle simmer, turn the heat down so that it is barely moving, and leave it for a few hours while you get on with making something tasty from the meat.

When I asked Twitter what to do with turkey leftovers, most of the suggestions that came in fell into one of five categories: pie – topped with either puff pastry or mashed potato, croquettes, Asian, Mexican, and abomination.

Some retro dishes have been passed down a generation or two. The ones from the ’70s often involve cans of condensed soup, but perhaps a helping of nostalgia is all that’s needed to make them taste delicious. (I felt there was an amount of crossover between the pie and abomination categories.)

I used to make turkey curry, but it was never a success. Then a friend gave me her family’s recipe for turkey surprise, which she told me that they looked forward to more than Christmas dinner. I persuaded her to share the recipe and made sure to pick up all the ingredients (there were many) so that I would be equipped to make it on the 26th. The ‘surprise’ was time-consuming to prepare – and I have to confess that I had my doubts as I was putting it together (hard-boiled eggs, slivered almonds etc) – but I persevered. The turkey surprise turned out to be – surprise, surprise – disgusting. More recently I gave a Nigel Slater recipe involving, from memory, spelt and pomegranate seeds a go. That wasn’t much better. So I can’t claim to be the queen of Christmas leftovers.

This year I plan to try either Neven Maguire’s recipe for turkey satay, which sounds pretty good, or Karen Coakley’s for croquettes – she tells me they’re inspired by Dutch bitterbollen and that you can freeze the filling and make them on New Year’s Eve. I’m hoping that one will end my run of bad luck with turkey leftovers.

Something different: 10 ideas for leftover Christmas turkey

1 Every celebrity chef worth his or her salt has a recipe for some combination of turkey and pastry – Myrtle Allen’s St Stephen’s Day Pie, Rachel Allen’s Turkey and Ham Pie, Delia Smith’s Creamed Turkey en Croute and Jamie Oliver’s Turkey and Leek Pie.

2 Recipe in a sentence: Chop all leftovers roughly, cook up with a bit of stock and a dash of cream, pop into a dish and add a ready-rolled puff pastry top – Christmas pie! (@Jenny Sharif)

3 We have a family dish called ‘turkey divan’. Line casserole with small broccoli florets, cover with cooked turkey meat. Make sauce with Campbells mushroom soup mixed with mayonnaise (calories be damned) and a good helping of curry powder. Pour over, top with breadcrumbs and grated cheese. Bake. (@SuziQ)

4 My sister-in-law Janya (of Kin Khao Thai restaurants) makes the most amazing Thai turkey noodle soup which I look forward to more on St Stephen’s Day than actual roast turkey on Christmas Day. (@maryrose – Mary Rose Lyons)

5 Mayo, curry powder and mango chutney – coronation turkey. (@theglamityjane)

6 All my Cantonese family looks forward to turkey congee. I make turkey tortilla soup with a lot of lime juice and coriander, which is for me the perfect post-holiday cleanser. (@jiemeimei – Mei Chin, food writer.)

7 Another take on the croquette idea, this time including ham and blue cheese. Pulverize turkey bits with ham in food processor. Add bits of blue cheese. Make a bechamel sauce. Combine and dip palm-sized dollops of the mix in egg yolk and then breadcrumbs. Refrigerate for 2 hours. Deep fry/drain. Heaven with crispy salad, beetroot sides. (Any leftover hard cheese will do, but blue is particularly good). (@HelenORahilly)

8 Quesadillas. We’re obsessed with them for Christmas leftovers. (@GastroGays – Patrick Hanlon and Russell Alford)

9 Spicy turkey tacos or turkey mole. (@LilyRamirezFora – Picado Mexican Pantry)

10 Add to a white pizza using Pizza da Piero base, O’Neill’s bacon jam and Toonsbridge mozzarella or ricotta cheese. (@gingerbreadmiss)


Serves 4-6


  • 275g (10oz) fine egg noodles
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 large red pepper, halved, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 225g (8oz) fine green beans, trimmed and halved
  • 175g (6oz) baby corn, halved lengthways
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 400g (14oz) can coconut milk
  • 100g (4oz) crunchy peanut butter
  • 2tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
  • 1 tsp light muscovado sugar
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 350g (12oz) leftover cooked turkey meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 50g (2oz) cashew nuts, toasted and finely chopped
  • Handful fresh coriander leaves, to garnish l 200ml turkey stock if you have it, otherwise whatever is to hand


1. Place the fine egg noodles in a pan of boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tender, or according to the packet instructions.

2. Heat a wok until very hot. Add the oil and swirl it around the edges, then tip in the red pepper, green beans, baby corn and garlic and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, until the vegetables are tender, sprinkling over 1 tablespoon of water if the mixture is getting too dry.

3. Drain the noodles and add to the wok with the coconut milk, peanut butter, soy sauce, chilli sauce, sugar and lime juice. Stir-fry for another 2-3 minutes. Add the diced cooked turkey and bring to the boil and cook for a further 5 minutes.

4. To serve, divide the noodles among warmed serving bowls and scatter over the cashew nuts and coriander.


Makes 8 small croquettes


  • 30g butter
  • ½ leek finely sliced
  • 30g flour, plus extra for dipping
  • 150g turkey meat (leg, very finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tsp sage, finely chopped
  • Handful of grated mature cheddar
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • Breadcrumbs, seasoned and placed on a plate
  • Mustard or cranberry sauce, to serve


1. Heat a frying pan and add the butter to melt. Sautée the leek until soft (5 mins).

2. Add the flour and stir for a minute to make a roux. Whisk in the stock and cook until thickened.

3. Add the turkey meat, mustard, sage and cheese, then season with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture onto a plate and allow to cool before placing in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

4. Flour your hands and take a piece of the mixture and shape into a croquette. Dip it in the flour and eggs before rolling in breadcrumbs. Repeat this step a second time.

5. Deep fry at 1800C until golden.

6. Serve with mustard or cranberry sauce.

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